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Endocrine disruptors as an environmental problem

Endocrine disruptors are an increasingly problematic issue from an environmental perspective. The term endocrine disrupter is used to describe substances that precipitate responses in an organism that are similar to those of endogenous hormones or that inhibit these hormones. Endocrine disrupters may be natural substances, e.g. oestrogen or testosterone in humans, or some of the phytohormones present in plants. They are metabolised relatively quickly.

In contrast, the synthetic hormones used in large quantities in medicine and in animal husbandry are highly stable and can sometimes even be detected in the outlet channels of sewage plants. Industrial production also uses or manufactures substances that exhibit endocrine disrupter properties in laboratory and animal testing. Industrial chemicals with oestrogenic effects – known as xenoestrogens – accumulate in large quantities in the plastics and metalworking industries and elsewhere, or are placed on the market as additives in pesticides, detergents and latex paints.
This may lead to proliferation in water. The effects are particularly evident among aquatic animal populations (e.g. fish and amphibians). This may disrupt the gender balance and hence cause a decline in species numbers.

In many cases there has been insufficient analysis of the effects on the human organism. But there have been some responses to reports on conspicuous compounds. One such example is bisphenol A (BPA), which has been banned in the EU for the manufacture of infant bottles (Regulation No 2011/8/EU). 

SYNLAB Service

Our simple and inexpensive biotest can be used to detect endocrine disrupters in aqueous samples like:

  • drinking water for human or animal consumption,
  • mineral water,
  • waste water
  • ground water and leachate, as well as
  • flowing and stagnant waters

Unlike chemical analyses that attempt to detect individual substances by means of highly sensitive methods, our test determines the aggregate endocrine disruption caused by all substances ‘simulating’ a particular hormone. In this, we exploit the fact that steroid hormones like oestrogen, androgen and progesterone initially bond with specific receptors in the body’s cells.

Detection method

The test involved modifying yeast cells so that they produce the individual human receptors. The aqueous samples are added to the nutrient medium of the yeast cells. An enzyme will be produced following further bonding processes in the event that a endocrine disrupter substance bonds with the matching receptor. A substrate additive releases a dye in response. Absorption measurement is used to determine the intensity of the colouring, which ultimately depends on the endocrine disruptor’s concentration in the sample. The measurement findings are benchmarked with references (e.g. estradiol) to produce the measurement findings.

Analysis scope

We currently provide analyses for the following hormones/hormone analogues:

  • oestrogens
  • androgens
  • gestagens

We use a simple procedure to produce aqueous solutions in defined matrices. This enables analysis of the following samples:

  • food and fodder
  • sediment and soil samples
  • sewage sludge
  • fermentation substrates and residues
  • implements made of plastic (e.g. drinking and water bottles, sealed containers, baby items)


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